Florida Kids Overdose on “Nicotine Candy”

Florida Kids Overdose on “Nicotine Candy”

Seven young Florida children were rushed to a hospital earlier this month after swallowing nicotine lozenges. One child brought the 4 mg mint-flavored Nicorette mini lozenges to school and offered them to classmates.

“We thought it was candy,” nine-year-old Jaheim Moore said.

They played a game of who could eat the most, according to CBS Miami. “My stomach started hurting, I was shaking, and then I threw up,” Jaheim Moore told CBS. Doctors at Broward Health said the kids, ages 9-12, had rapid heart beats and low blood pressure. The symptoms are exactly those of a nicotine overdose.

Jaheim Moore’s father told the TV station that the child who had passed the candy out said that he bought the lozenges himself. “He bought it from a store and I don’t see why the store sold him that nicotine medicine,” Edward Moore told CNN.

It’s illegal to sell nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products like lozenges to minors without a prescription, but many stores have them displayed near the candy at checkout impulse counters.

While the public health world works itself into a frenzy over teenage vaping, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products remain easily available, and may create as much or more risk for young children. In fact, before the advent of e-cigarettes, NRT poisoning was a concern among medical and tobacco control organizations.

Large quantities of nicotine gum or lozenges could be swallowed by a young child much more easily and quickly than a dangerous amount of e-liquid or DIY nicotine could be swallowed and absorbed. Fruity e-liquid may smell delicious, but a few drops in the mouth will probably convince you that drinking enough to cause harm would not be an easy task. But nicotine lozenges are made to be palatable.

“They’re sweet like candy, and you can use them when you need them, so it can be easy to take more than you need or more than is recommended in a 24-hour period,” says a medical advice site. They would probably cause vomiting — like drinking nicotine does — but they’re still dangerous if a large quantity is swallowed.

While JUUL has grabbed the attention of self-promoting politicians, pharmaceutical products like Nicorette stay off their radar — because politicians, like most people, trust pharmaceutical companies. Nicorette is made by Johnson & Johnson and sold in the U.S. by GlaxoSmithKline. Before Mitch Zeller took the reins at the FDA Center for Tobacco Products, he worked as a lobbyist for Glaxo.

In 2001, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids president Matthew Myers said that giving NRT products to smoking teenagers was no big deal. “There has been resistance because there has been resistance to providing nicotine in any form to teenagers,” Myers told Slate. “It is probably an obsolete set of concerns that could be managed.”

He’s singing a different tune now, as the juuling moral panic that TFK and friends engineered cranks into high gear, and Myers cheers on the FDA’s Reefer Madness-redux anti-vaping campaign The Real Cost. Nicotine in any form “can harm the developing adolescent brain,” says the TFK website, referring to rodent studies.

Apparently the brains of the Florida kids eating pharmaceutical nicotine aren’t in danger. Once the nicotine passes through the Johnson & Johnson factory, it magically emerges as clean, healthy medicine, blessed by the FDA and anti-nicotine crusaders alike.

Smokers can quit and relapse yearly with their choice of gum, lozenges or patches paid for by a mandated insurance benefit that was fought for by the hard-working lobbyists at J&J and Glaxo. And meanwhile, the whole world can freak out about teen vaping.